by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff

BREWER — They got to bring slime home. Who knew that would happen?

Certainly not Michele Maybury, Cassie Roberts, Jade D’Salvo, Annalee Chute and Kathryn Jakubowski, eighth-graders at Brewer Community School. They were among the school’s 20 or so girls who attended the Expanding Your Horizons symposium on March 14 at the University of Maine.

The daylong symposium was designed to introduce the girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The event, organizers said, attracts approximately 500 girls from across Maine each year. All of the workshops and activities were conducted by women.

“It was so interesting to see what it takes to do what they do [in their jobs],” said Kathryn, who is interested in a career in the medical field. “Never in a million years would I have guessed we’d make slime.”

The slime was the product of a workshop the Brewer girls attended. It was conducted by Amy Luce, a former Brewer High School graduate and University of Maine graduate, who now works in the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute at the chemical and biological engineering department of the university.

But slime wasn’t the only thing the girls encountered. “We got to see how to use a hydrogen cell to make a car run. That car was in a competition and won a prize,” said Anna, who has her eye on a career in mechanical engineering. “I didn’t know hydrogen could be a fuel.”

In another workshop, the girls learned how nano-particles are used in medical treatment for pancreatic cancer. “They are working on that in Orono, and it [the idea of using nano particles] came about because of a mistake,” said Jade. “It made me think about my future, if I would like to be one of those people who was able to cure cancer.”

They also were exposed to other careers for women they didn’t know existed, including forestry.

But the gender equality workshop was the one the girls tagged as their favorite. “We learned that because we are girls, we knock ourselves down because we don’t think we’re good enough,” said Cassie, whose interest in languages has her thinking about a career as an ambassador.

“And we learned that girls can do the same sports boys do,” said Michele, who is thinking about a career in physical therapy.

In the gender equity workshop, the girls said, they got to ask questions, and they felt understood, they could relate to what was being said, be open, participate and be part of the conversation.

“We got to talk about girls being girls,”Cassie said.

“It was one of the best workshops,” Jade said.

Kathryn said that what she took away from the workshop was that she doesn’t have to let society tell her what she can and can’t do.

“Consistently, the girls [who attend Expanding Your Horizons] rate the gender equity workshop as their most favorite,” said Sharon Barker, director of the UMaine Women’s Center, which for 26 years has organized the symposium. “[The workshop] is an opportunity to for girls to talk about their own lives.”

This was the third year that Brewer students have participated in Expanding Your Horizons, said Nancy Snowdeal, school guidance counselor. “What I most appreciate about the conference is the diversity of subjects, the real life ways that women are using science and math in their careers,” she said. “Students have loved it, and the university does a really nice job with workshops and activities.”

“We are very appreciative of the Brewer school administration for being supportive [of allowing students to attend the symposium]. They say this is important, and they understand the value of the trip [to the university],” said Sue Gaitings, gifted and talented co-ordinator at the the school.

The girls also toured the UMaine campus under auspices of Hina, a pre-med and engineering student who served as their guide, and for whom the five girls had high praise.

Cassie said she came away from the conference with greater confidence that “I can do things that I want to do and not be alone in that — women have already been there and are making a difference.”

Michele said she came away confident that “If I want to do anything, I can do it. There is so much out here.”

Kathryn said that now she knows now she can follow her career dreams, and those dreams can come true.

The girls also had advice for next year’s eighth-graders who will have the option of attending Expanding Your Horizons: “Don’t judge. Think about going. It’s fun,” said Jade.

“Have an open mind,” Cassie said.

Besides, the girls agreed, you might get to make slime and take it home — or discover that math isn’t all that terrifying.

Brewer Community School students Madison Walton, Bryanna Magan, Crystal Dore, Madison Bean, Kellie Michaud, Mariah Carlson, Maggie Coyle, Castine BarryGrant, Nola Prevost, Tori Stubbs, Lilyan Cohen, Katie Cobb, Morgan Graichen, Makenna Hamm and Alyssa Vargo also attended the Expanding Your Horizons conference.